Icons & Innovators
Whether it’s in Washington, DC, or on national TV, Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, speaks out for an integrative new approach to medicine, health, fitness and life.
“Mind-body science has shown us that it doesn’t make sense to treat the human body like a science fair project anymore. Now we know that our health isn’t just about a system of anatomical parts—it’s an integration of the mental, physical and spiritual. It’s determined by our attitudes and belief systems, as well as our genetics and environmental systems,” says Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, when asked how medicine has changed in recent decades. “We never really understood that until we got hardcore data. A good example is recent research on stress. It shows that chronic stress can lead to damage in every cell of the body—but also that the damage is reversible when the mind changes its perception of the stress.”
Peeke is one of the world’s foremost experts in integrative medicine and health, and she helped inaugurate the Inner IDEA® Conference as its premiere keynote speaker in 2006. She was the first senior research fellow at the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine, where she helped establish the scientific foundation for the research and development of investigations involving nutrition and fitness. She is also an expert in gender-specific health and medicine. Peeke is a Pew Foundation Scholar in nutrition and metabolism and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland.
Peeke is best known for her books and work in television: she is the New York Times bestselling author of Fight Fat after Forty, the first consumer book describing the stress-fat connection for men and women, which was followed by her PBS special, “Fight Fat after Forty: The Stress-Fat Connection.” She is also author of Body for Life for Women, which spawned a companion DVD, The Body for Life for Women Workout. Her newest book, Fit to Live, recently launched on the Today Show; the topic premiered as a Discovery Health channel reality television special in January and is set to become a series.
“The Latin root of the word ‘doctor’ means teacher, and if there’s one thing I’m meant to do, it’s teach. Whether it’s in print, on the Web or TV, in front of college students or on top of a garbage can, just wind me up and I teach,” laughs Peeke. “From the first time a CNN reporter put a microphone in front of me, I realized that television is just another way to teach people to live healthier, happier, better, longer lives. In the corporate and government arenas there are a lot of constraints, but on television I find I can teach the way I want to and really help people change their lives.”
Peeke’s latest book and TV project encourages fitness as a means to greater functionality and satisfaction in daily living. “We’re redefining what it means to be fit enough to handle the physical demands and mental weight of 21st century living. On TV we can do fun stuff with more extreme challenges, such as could you run up 20 flights of stairs to save yourself from a fire, or hoist yourself off a roof to escape a flood? In real life, the questions might be, could you run fast enough to make your flight, or go on a mountain hiking trip with your kids? If your child is running into traffic, are you fit enough to save her life? We want people to ask themselves if they’re fit to reach their goals—and live their dreams.”
Peeke uses the phrase “living body dollar to body dollar” to describe how too many people eat poorly, don’t move enough and then struggle to get through each day with insufficient physical “funds” to match daily demands. “It’s like living paycheck to paycheck. We skip breakfast, eat poorly, don’t exercise and then have just enough energy to get from the house to the car to our desk and then back to a couch or bed. That’s not optimal living. We need to invest more in ourselves.”
Being “fit to live” includes being flexible and resilient enough for whatever happens next in your life, says Peeke. “That’s one of the most important lessons, and it applies to all life—plants, animals and people. The ability to adapt and adjust to life’s ever-changing environment is what determines your future. I call adapting and adjusting “A-squaring it.” First thing in the morning, I give thanks for still being around and list some gratitudes, and then I think, ‘Bring it on. I’m ready for another day of A-squaring it.’”
Mary Monroe is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.